Decision pending on Smiths Ashburton trading location

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Property owner Tricroft and its tenant Smiths Ashburton (Smiths City) are awaiting a decision from an independent hearing commissioner on whether trading can continue out of the former Bunnings building on West Street.

Tricroft has applied for a resource consent because the premises does not comply with Ashburton District Council’s new Plan Change 4, which aims to give priority to the development of retail in the town centre (Business A).

The West Street site is zoned Business C and Smiths Ashburton’s wish for retail floorspace of 1002m2 exceeds the permitted maximum of 750m2.

As well as being a non-complying activity under District Plan rules, the application refers back to the consent issued for the former use of the site by Bunnings Warehouse.

Council has allowed Smiths Ashburton to operate since June at the site, pending the decision of the resource consent process.

Limited retail activities are permitted at the site but must be yard based and trade-based suppliers.

Tricroft intends splitting the large 4725m2 space into three separate tenancies because of the demand in the market.

Tricroft general manager Tony Gilbert, in his statement of evidence to the hearing commissioner, said Tricroft supported ongoing vitality and the general health of the town centre, but did not believe there was currently the space or conditions required for a large format retailer (LFR) like Smiths Ashburton to operate in the central business district (CBD).

There had been urgency for the business to relocate from its former site and also the risk of the company exiting Ashburton altogether.

LFRs were typically found outside of the town centre, which meant easier traffic access and better promotion of the business, he said.

In his evidence opposing the application local property valuer and consultant Clark McLeod, who submitted as an individual within the Ashburton Retailers Group, said Smiths Ashburton may or may not be suited to the CBD, but the proposed West Street relocation would have “a significant impact detracting from the CBD businesses.”

He said the cost of development and therefore the cost of retail occupancy in an outer Business C location was significantly less than a central business location.

That lower cost would have the tendency to draw other business from central locations and potentially create a vacuum from the CBD.

Evidence was provided in person and via Zoom for both Tricroft and Ashburton District Council during the eight hour hearing in front of commissioner Ken Fletcher.

The hearing was adjourned for the clarification of a few small matters and a decision was expected in the next four weeks.

-By Mick Jensen